Social Network Contribution Ratio 90:9:1
The use of social media to support marketing has increased in recent times. How can we use this to develop our business?
Lets start by understanding that this is not a “rule”, but some say a modern “Myth of Community Participation”.
To me the “99-9-1 rule” is a tool or guide to help manage expectations… nothing more… nothing less.
Many organisations and providers develop web 2.0 platforms to encourage contributions from employees, customers and potential customers and thus develop their site and presence.
Time and time again the ration 90-9-1 appears with respect to interactions and contributions. This has also been called the one percent rule or 1% rule.
90-9-1 rule where:
- 90% of users are lurkers or quiet participants/ audience (i.e., read or observe, but don’t contribute)
- 9%of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time (partially engaged)
- 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions (fully engaged): it can seem as if they don’t have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they’re commenting on occurs
Rather than seeing the lack of active contribution as a problem, it is far more helpful to view participation behaviour as a reflection of the variety of skills and strengths of the participants.
Instead of seeing the 90% as “Lurkers”, I prefer to view them as a type of participant. A participant who is primarily an audience that uses and applies the content presented.
Some like to see this from a different perspective – 1-9-90, where:
- 1% are creators
- 9% are editors or critics
- 90% are the audience (but like to believe they can contribute if they chose to)
and like any stage play the audience may laugh, clap or walk out but often that is the limit to their participation. Hecklers are the 9% or critics!
In-house systems and the 90-9-1 rule
Inside organisations the ratio is quite different.
The ratio trends toward 60% knowledge champions (people who contribute most often), so the focus needs to be on the 40% that contribute occasionally or only passively read content.
When we know what the ‘normal’ contribution levels are, we can use this to develop strategies to help people contribute. This is true even at a simple low level. Tools such as ‘thumbs up’ or polls can easily increase participation beyond the top 10%. The ‘trick’ is not to expect full engagement, but a simple, low risk way of adding or expressing their thoughts.
The greater the barrier, registration, adding comments etc the less likely individuals are to contribute.
Part of this is also about managing our expectations. If we put an entry up on an wiki, blog or forum, we should not expect 100’s of comments, often tracking reads and links followed is a measure of the value a page or article is providing.
The greater environment – participation inequality & 90-9-1 rule
On any given user-participation site, you almost always hear from the same 1% of users, who almost certainly differ from the 90% you never hear from. In other words 90% of the contributions to a site or community/ forum are from 1% of the population – no matter what you do 90% just wont engage.
We expect participation to be fair and equal – but it is not, nor in reality will it ever be.
Only a tiny percentage of letter writers to the editors of our national newspapers get published. 1000s of disappointed “want to be” authors never get their manuscripts published.
B2B or B2C influence on applying the 90-9-1 rule
Much of the “research” around the 90-9-1 rule has been in the arena of B2B – where a community is passionate about a concept, belief, product or service. Indeed some community providers quote interaction rations nearer to 70-20-10 and in one instance 60-30-10 . In the B2C market some say that the actual ratio of participation is nearer to 99-0.9-0.1 (see Impact Interactions).
For my own blog I am certainly a long way from 90-9-1… nearer 99.99-.01
Is this important?
To be honest …NO… however where it can add value is for those developing communities or spaces for interactions. If you build something and expect high levels of interactions then you are misguided – where as if you understand that less then 10% of your community are likely to proactively contribute then at least your expectations may be met!
Equality in participation – yes the web 2.0+ enables this – but as the (very) old saying goes – you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.
2015 update on 90-9-1 & 70-20-10
This piece on the 90 9 1 rule needed an update. This was originally written in 2009. The world has change considerably in that time. Not least social and online communities. Read my update on the 90-9-1 rule is this relevant in 2015 and beyond? is there space for a new more accurate social engagement rule?
Originally written March 2009, revisited June 2015